Monthly Archives: January 2012

Horses we Love

The following was originally published in the Spring 2007 Bulletin. At the time, Samantha Pleasant ’02 was  Associate Director of Admissions and a riding instructor here at SBS. Her words still reflect the feelings of so many students and alumnae that we wanted to share them here with you. We hope that you enjoy reading Sam’s account of her own relationship with horses and what she observed in our students during her time here.

I was never fortunate enough to have had my own pony as a child, although I certainly spent enough time wishing for one. But every day, rain or shine, I had a barn of 60 horses ready to love at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. Even before I was a Stoneleigh-Burnham girl, before I was a Bonnie Castle Camper…I was a girl truly in love with the sight of a horse. I spent every waking minute that I was not at school at the barn rolling wraps, grooming horses, hand-walking, doing turnouts and of course, riding. I had a favorite horse for every hour of every day: Stoneleigh-Burnham School gave me a thousand opportunities to call a horse my own.

As I grew older, I learned that horses recognized footsteps and I could count on my horse to be standing in the closest corner of her stall, ears perked and her soft whiskered muzzle pressed against the iron bars. Today it’s still the best moment of my day. Each afternoon I take the few minutes I have before I begin teaching to press my face into her chestnut side and let her wrap her neck around me as I lean into her steady shoulder. During summer evenings, I’ll walk to the barn after dinner – let the slow lazy sun sink behind the trees and enjoy the quiet. She’ll have settled for the evening, finished her hay while her eyes start to droop and she’ll wait for me. I can spend hours grooming her, loose her from her stall without seeing another person or hearing any other footsteps beside our own. She’s content to stand as long as I hold a soft brush to flick the hairs from her coat and and a carrot to thank her. Her dark chocolate eyes follow my movements, as she carefully watches me. She knows that I can be trusted, that I am here to give care, worry over cuts and nicks, and satisfy her needs. I know in that moment what connection is, I can understand the beauty of horse and rider. Secrets spoken aloud lose their power; I keep this time with her private.

Not every day is like this, sometimes time and real life can interfere with want and I find myself barely stopping by on my way to an appointment, or traveling will leave me without checking on her for days at a time. But the consistency of knowing that your horse will be waiting when you return, just as ready, just as eager, is testament to the quiet acceptance horses can grant so easily.

Horses love unconditionally and pass no judgement, and that quiet whoof of breath into your hand can make the minutes and the hours melt away. Your physical limitations disappear in a half pass or a soaring jumper course and there is nothing but appreciation for the body beneath you that has given you wings. I’ve learned compassion and patience from my horses over the years and even more from watching the strength they can inspire in our students. Girls spend their adolescent years searching for voice, purpose, connection and an individual sense of accomplishment.

Stoneleigh-Burnham is a place for girls to foster connections with these uniquely dignified animals. We are able to continue these traditions year to year because of compassionate people who understand the importance of the relationships between girls and horses. These people are our Director of Riding Mina Cooper, our alumnae and the patrons of the SBS Riding Program, and they continue to give of their time and their hearts to support a program that gives young girls purpose.

Our school is a magical place where adults can help students combine a love of learning and a passion for horses. As one student remarked on her senior page, “I wish leaving Stoneleigh was as easy as leaving the ground. Thank you…”

-Samantha Pleasant, Class of 2002

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Filed under Alumnae, Equestrian Program, School Happenings, Uncategorized, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Pride in My Work

For a little while, it seemed as though the freak Halloween snowstorm was going to be the extent of winter in New England this year, but as January is progressing, winter seems to be asserting itself more and more strongly. Last Monday was a cold one even though only a few inches of snow had fallen overnight, but somehow it served to energize the middle schoolers. And so it was that I was surrounded at the beginning of advisory by swarms of students buzzing in random directions, all asking me if they could go outside. My advisory group, in fact, had asked just the previous Friday if we could have a middle school snowball fight some day, so after checking in quickly with the other advisors who were nearby, I told all our advisees to get their coats.

After sending Hank’s advisees off to ask permission to join the others and clearing the middle school of the one or two kids who were uncertain about the whole idea, I wrapped my scarf around my neck, zipped up my coat, and ran outside to see what was happening.Kids had continued to run in random directions, except now they were also leaning over long enough to scoop up some snow, fashion a quick snowball, and launch it at whoever happened to be in the vicinity. Hank, too, was periodically lobbing snowballs at semi-random kids, and I threw myself into the fray, dodging snowballs with mixed success and retaliating enthusiastically, if with limited accuracy.

 

During one of the interludes when I was warming up my hands, one of the students approached with an adorable eight-inch-high snow person; soon after, another student came up to the teachers to show us a little snow mouse she had made. Both posed happily for pictures.

As the end of advisory neared, a large group of students had gone down on the field and congregated on a jump. I ran down toward them to start the process of getting them to come inside and go to class, and soon realized I didn’t have to say a word as they all came after me throwing a frightening number of snowballs in my general direction. Everyone went inside in good spirits, ready for Humanities, ESL, or Math/Science depending on what they had during AB period.

While we were all taking a break, one of my colleagues remarked that she had been reading (as had I) about the fact that many kids today don’t really know how to engage in unstructured play. Beyond learning to entertain themselves, children also profit from unstructured play by learning how to make and agree on rules. “Our kids appear to have no problem with that,” someone said, and as we watched one group start to make a snow person, another work on a snow sculpture that would evolve into an owl, a third divide into two lines of students readying for battle, and a fourth continue to throw snowballs randomly, no one could have argued with her.

That night, I was corresponding with one of the seventh graders regarding some questions she had about Humanities. In one email, she mentioned that her mom wanted to thank me for throwing a snowball at her. That note will always be a source of pride, and a reminder that being an effective teacher may at times require an unexpectedly wide and varied skillset. Though he never worked snowball throwing into the curriculum of my M.A.T. program, I am quite sure my advisor (a former middle school teacher himself) would also be proud of me.

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Filed under Admissions, In the Classroom, On Education, School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective

The Fierce Urgency of… Whenever?

As I do every Monday, I walked into my Humanities 7 class and asked, “Who wants to read their independent writing today?” Several people did, but a greater number said they weren’t sure and asked for me to write their name on the white board in parentheses, our special code for “I’ll decide at the last minute.” The last few weeks, there had been increasing numbers of parentheses, a trend I had decided needed to stop in its tracks.

So while the students who were reading were starting up their laptops and pulling up the documents, I decided to whip open my iPad and search online for Taylor Mali’s poem, “Totally like whatever, you know?” The poem begins, “In case you hadn’t noticed / it has somehow become uncool / to sound like you know what you’re talking about?” and ends with these lines: “Because contrary to the bumper sticker, / it is not enough these days to simply QUESTION AUTHORITY. / You have to speak with it, too.” We had a great discussion about the poem, and they totally like, you know… got it that I am working to teach them to “speak with conviction.” Our discussion ended with the following dialogue:

Me: I’m also teaching you to question authority.

Them: How?

Me: Well, are you comfortable questioning me?

Them: (genuine laughter)

Them: Why?

Me: Because sometimes authority needs to be questioned.

Them: (thoughtful silence)

Coincidence or not, two seventh graders came to me that day to talk over some concerns they had about middle school representation on Student Council given our ever-increasing numbers. They offered several suggestions as to what changes might be made to the system next year, and while they were genuinely open-minded and listened to my thoughts in a true spirit of dialogue, they did not simply bend to my way of thinking. They did indeed speak with conviction in a spirit true to their own best selves.

Meanwhile, the Upper School Rock Band has been working on “Know Your Enemy” by Green Day, and frankly, I need never have worried about how they would sound screaming “Gimme gimme revolution!” toward the end. Indeed, from the very first snare hit that begins the piece to the final powerful “Yeah!!!” held over the sustained distortion of two screaming guitars, the heart-rattling thunk of the bass, and the combined crash-bang of drums and piano, they are thoroughly convincing that “silence is the enemy / against your urgency / So rally up the demons of your soul!”

Martin Luther King spoke about “the fierce urgency of now,” and of course two groups that sense that urgency most strongly are oppressed people and adolescents. I would add that people who work with and care about both groups often share that feeling. Indeed, I find myself feeling it ever more strongly these days (as regular readers of this blog may have guessed!).

John Steinbeck captured it well in Travels With Charley, written in 1960 (three years before Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech) and published in 1962, which describes a conversation with a young, Black student who lived near New Orleans during a time of horrific protests against school integration. “Finally,” writes Steinbeck, “we spoke of Martin Luther King and his teaching of passive but unrelenting resistance. ‘ It’s too slow,’ he said. “It will take too long’” Steinbeck responded, “’There’s improvement, there’s constant improvement. Gandhi proved it’s the only weapon that can win against violence.’ ‘I know all that. I’ve studied it. The gains are drops of water and time is passing. I want it faster, I want action – action now.’” Later, Steinbeck describes the final scene of their conversation as the young student said, “’I’m ashamed. It’s just selfishness. But I want to see it – me – not dead. Here! Me! I want to see it – soon.’ And then he swung around and wiped his eyes with his hand and he walked quickly away.”

Unsurprisingly, I have had more conversations than I can count with students here who want to make this world a better place. Six-year seniors might be surprised – or not! – how many of our conversations I still remember. And it only adds to my own feeling that for all the drops of water I am working to contribute to bettering our world, It. Is. Not. Enough. Many of our students will be voting in the next presidential election, and all of them in the one after that. It is my hope, conviction, and comfort that, as their generation grows up, they’ll continue to hold true to their vision of how the world ought to be and work to make that vision come true. Not in some vague “whenever” time. In the now.

That is my own dream today.

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Filed under In the Classroom, On Education, School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective

Biscuits and Gravy

I, like many of our students, left home as a young adolescent for a boarding school. I, like many of our students will, then continued this educational journey away from home as I went on to college. However, unlike many of our students, I never actually left home.

I grew up within the cozy confines of Rhode Island. My “leaving” for boarding school consisted of driving 40 minutes south of my hometown to Newport, Rhode Island. College took me just barely outside of New England for two years in upstate New York at Colgate University, a mere 5 hour drive from home. Yet, it was right back to New England (with a sigh of relief) for my final two undergrad years at Williams College, only 3 hours from a home-cooked meal.

So how, you might ask, did I end up in San Diego, California on the last day of our recent winter holiday? Well, I drove. I drove for four days. I drove from Greenfield, MA to Kentucky to Oklahoma to Arizona to San Diego, California. I drove for approximately 50 hours through 13 different states.

I drove in awe, looking at the changing landscape, terrain and climate around me. I grew up sailing, so the idea of seeing without limit in one (even all) directions was not new to me, but experiencing this on land was completely foreign. The road ahead seemed to stretch  to infinity- where were the trees, the curves, the hills?

As it turned out, the road (I-40 to be exact) did not go on forever, only to New Mexico.Immediately after crossing into New Mexico, the terrain became dynamic, rising into countless mesas. Flat topped mountains! A novel concept for the eyes of this New Englander. Furthermore, there may not be snow in Greenfield, MA right now, but I can tell you there is snow in New Mexico and Arizona. Never before did I think of snow when I thought of the Grand Canyon. And the Grand Canyon- this is truly something you need to see to believe.

Not only was this trip eye-opening for me in shattering some of my misconceptions regarding the geography of my own country, but really for the first time in my life, I found myself somewhere other than home. I can go pretty much anywhere in New England and feel comfortable. But that first stop in Kentucky- I was out of my element. Not only was I suddenly unsure of what to expect from the people, but there was gravy at the breakfast table!

I had this experience on a 3,000 mile trip across my own country. Not only are many of the students at Stoneleigh-Burnham traveling to us from different states, many are traveling a lot farther than 3,000 miles!

This week at Stoneleigh-Burnham School is International Week. During International Week, we celebrate the diversity of cultures that comprise the Stoneleigh-Burnham community. Our international students have shared with us the dance, the traditional dress and the food of their home countries. We celebrate all that our international students bring to the Stoneleigh-Burnham community, and it is wonderful.

However, having completed my recent cross country voyage I ask that we recognize something else too. Let us also celebrate the sacrifice, courage and confidence our international students demonstrate when they make the decision to leave home in order to attend Stoneleigh-Burnham. They aren’t just continuing their educational journey a few hours from home but on the other side of the world.

Sara, road trip day 3, Texas.

Sara Plunkett, Intern, Admissions Associate and Coach

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Esprit de basket

I will never forget the look on Ramses Lonlack’s face when we first walked into the Mullins Center at UMass. Her jaw dropped, her eyes widened, her head tilted back, and as she gazed slowly around the arena, she said softly yet firmly, “Some day, I’m going to play in a place like this.” Along with several other fans from Stoneleigh-Burnham, we sat down near the small but enthusiastic cohort that seemed to be made up mostly of friends, roommates, and family members to cheer on the UMass women’s basketball team, Ramses’s voice rising with many others as she got caught up in her enthusiasm.

Women’s basketball fans are indeed enthusiastic about their sport, and many of us share a bond that goes far deeper than whatever team(s) we happen to support. Liz Feeley is a former women’s basketball coach in Divisions I and III, but although she undoubtedly sees more in five seconds than I see in five games, she loves to discuss the chances of UConn (a team I’ve followed since Rebecca Lobo went there out of Western Massachusetts) vs. Notre Dame (one of her former teams) with me, and a Diet Coke now rides on each match-up. Similarly, when I took Ramses and another girl from Africa to a professional Connecticut Sun game, they discovered the visiting Los Angeles Sparks had a player from Africa and began to root loudly for the opponents. Other fans turned around to gaze at them, but rather than incredulity or irritation, their faces showed a kind of bemused delight.

The following year, I learned a friend of mine (Melissa Sterry, a Sun fan and former WNBA blogger whom I had gotten to know simply by starting an email conversation in reaction to one of her blogs) kept six season tickets for the express purpose of bringing people to Sun games and getting them interested in women’s ball. She invited me to bring a cohort of students whom we took out to dinner after the game so she could talk to them a bit about basketball and about their lives. Ramses was originally supposed to go to that game too, but at the last minute had to cancel because a Division I school had offered her a tryout. She expressed profound disappointment at missing the Sun game, but knew this was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

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Historical Interlude

Women’s basketball began in 1892 when Sendra Berenson of Smith College adapted the rules of the year-old sport for women. Players could only bounce the ball once before passing, and the court was divided into three zones to minimize running. Three players per team were assigned to each zone – guard, center, or forward. The first known women’s basketball game opposed the classes of 1895 and 1896, with the freshmen winning 5-4.

In 1914, just two years after the college opened, West Tennessee State Normal School played their own first women’s basketball game, winning 24-0 over a local high school. The college would undergo a number of name changes through the years, settling on the University of Memphis in 1994. Despite their early advocacy of women’s sports, the college demoted all women’s athletics from varsity status in 1936. They would remain so until the passage of Title IX, and the women’s basketball team was reinstated for the 1972-1973 season.

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Ramses did end up at the University of Memphis, the school she missed the Sun game for, and made her mark quickly. She won the “Rookie of the Week” award her first week in the league, and has won numerous defensive awards. More recently, she approached a major milestone, her 1000th point. She has also grabbed more than 500 rebounds and had over 250 steals, and is only the 6th player in U. Memphis history to achieve at this level. As Ramses approached the milestone, an excited buzz rose up on the Internet in the spirit both of women’s basketball and of Stoneleigh-Burnham, and when she finally made it, friends and fans from all over joined in congratulations. We could not be happier for her or prouder of her, and wish her all the best as she continues through her senior season.

Photo credit: Joe Murphy

-Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

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Filed under Admissions, Alumnae, College Prep, On Athletics, The Faculty Perspective